FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: It's wrong to say voting changes nothing in SA


With elections a week away, it is interesting to hear how many of those who say they will not vote, say it is because voting changes nothing and that, regardless of how many times they have voted, “nothing has changed”.

I am not one of those who reduce the struggle against apartheid to being about the right to vote. Choosing not to vote is an exercise of the democratic right.

The struggle was more comprehensive than that. It was about human rights and dignity for all.

For example, white South Africans could vote but were not necessarily free.

In fact, the right to vote made white South Africans unfree because they could not go freely go to the “black” part of their own city without feeling like they had a target on their back, let alone travel the world without being treated like they were the skunks of the world.

So whatever you wish to say about South Africa and how much it has disappointed you, please resist the temptation to say nothing has changed.

That is not to say that South Africa is a perfect country. It is far from that.

Corruption, state capture, crime, bad education and a weak economy are there for everyone to see. One can even argue that certain things were better during apartheid than they are now, but it will be ahistorical and dishonest to say, as some do, that nothing has changed.

I appreciate just how insensitive this might sound to those who still live in squalor, are unemployed as they were during apartheid and that their children have to learn under trees and relieve themselves in the bushes.

What has changed is that South Africans can now hold those who wield power accountable. They can decide whether they can be trusted with state authority and if they are not convinced, they can replace them with those they believe can do a better job.

They can do this without the need to crawl under a border fence with an AK-47 underarm.

It is not insignificant that unlike 25 years ago, merely stating your opinion about how the country was governed could earn you an all-expenses, hundred-night trip to Robben Island – but not as a tourist.

It may seem trite to some, but it matters that our country no longer has to sacrifice its young people, be it in defence of or the fight against apartheid.

It is a big deal that today you can say the kind of things Julius Malema says – inside Parliament nogal – and still get to wear your expensive red sole shoes and drink champagne at a fancy members-only polo club.

We may not have many of the amenities that other countries, especially in the global north, take for granted, but we have the right to mobilise our collective resources to struggle for the common – or if you are that way inclined - the individual good.

We make a mistake if we allow politicians to do as they please with our country and not make them accountable. Each time we shrug our shoulders in despair, it is us, not the country that has not changed but needs to.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.